Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Don’t Kill Your Darlings

Don’t Kill Your Darlings, Tell Them to “Shut Up and Color, and Wait Their Turn
photo courtesy raw pixel 
How many times have you started a poem “with the perfect line”, and when you finish the poem, you realize that your perfect line doesn’t belong? What do you do with that line?

My husband used to say he “dissolved it in solution”. NOOOOOOO!!!!! To quote poet and teacher Brendan Constantine, “put it in your woodpile”.

Do you have a woodpile? It could be a notebook, a file on your computer, anything. In our case, it’s a 66-page word document! We use it for lines, for prompts, or just good old inspiration. It is an invaluable tool for reclaiming your trash and your treasures. I couldn’t live without ours.

Sometimes, especially if I’m not feeling excited about writing at the moment, I’ll go through the pages. I might find a perfect place to start, or a perfect place to end. Often I’ll find a couple words, taken completely out of context with the woodpile line, but perfect for the poem I’ve now decided I want to write.

My husband’s woodpile lines are generally written from a male pov (point of view). Sometimes I’ll leave them that way; I write from a male pov all the time. Sometimes I’ll change the woodpile line about the down-on-his-luck guy with the twenty-five year old car—and now, that line is about a waitress with a twenty-year-old car, who gets a flat driving over glass and gravel in the parking lot of the diner where she’s late to work. Again.

by Lizi Rudolf
We laugh about this all the time. We do not write the same, but we can take inspiration from the same place and write two completely different poems. And for the record? If a line includes “bourbon”, it’s not necessarily his. If it includes “grace” or “mercy” it’s not necessarily mine.

When we went to the Catamaran Writer’s Workshop last year, we both workshopped with Joe Millar. Every day Joe gave us a list of words to use, or refer to. NONE of our poems were remotely similar. We each wrote three. Every one of them was published. I am all for inspiration.

I love the dictionary. “The Synonym Finder” by J.I. Rodale never leaves my desk. Neither does the stack of woodpile pages. And even though my desk looks like a storm swept through, I know where these references are (The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo is on the table in the living room. I know where that is too).

If you are not currently keeping lines, words, thoughts, ideas, scraps of overheard conversations, observations, descriptions of colors you’ve never heard before (especially blue, the most ridiculously described color in the human language), anything…please keep them!!! I guarantee it won’t be two weeks before you refer back and find exactly what you want for what you’re writing.

*     *     * 

Poem written about 85% from some version of our stockpiled lines:

Out of My League in Honfleur

Try as I might, I’m tainted,
shamefaced and lowbrow,
a face at the window
that leans into absence.

I contemplate the blue/gray
of enamel sky, compare
it to the bleu-noir of the rented
room, I turn numb,

follow a trail made of instinct.
Lacking in grace. I’ve drifted
far out of my league,
I am the late snow’s thickening

silence, the tick of a metronome
behind walls crackled with time.
I need a belt of something
ill-advised, and a man to drink with me.

Dump those dying wildflowers out
of the jar and pour. Don’t claim
my icy words are foreign, warm my
non-drinking wrist with your breath.

(Forthcoming in Picaroon Poetry)
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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Tobi Alfier - My Life is NOT Poetic. Is Yours?

How did I become a poet? Do you ever wonder that about yourself? I say I write because I can’t not, and that’s true. But poetry? My life is more like the Three Stooges Married Lucy and Ethel, and were directed by Fellini.

photo by Serge Lussier
Picture sixth-grade graduation. Little Tobi in her blue and green flowered skirt,
matching jacket with the Nehru collar, white fishnet stockings for the very first time, and blue harlequin glasses. Graduation was outside. As part of the school orchestra, I played “Roll on Columbia” on the upright piano wheeled outside for the occasion.

Wheeled outside, but with the brakes not secured. There is a certain irony to playing that song, while slowly sliding across the one-butt-wide piano bench, as the piano starts rolling. But is it poetic? Have I ever written about it? Not poetry. Not fiction.

Multiply that times sixty years and we’re up to last week, my poor husband heaving me up into his jeep because my car hadn’t started that morning and we were late for the dentist. His back finally feels better. I’m still sore and horrifically embarrassed. Will I ever write about it? Not poetry. Not fiction.

I think we all know that “poetry” is not synonymous with “diary”. It’s not synonymous with “journal entry”. I am very grateful that I can write about things I see, things I hear, ideas that come rumbling around in my head. I am thankful that I can write poems, not comedy routines. I am guessing — hoping — that you may feel the same way too (about your work AND about mine!).

We should all aspire to keep growing as poets, in whatever direction our love for writing poetry is taking us. I always say “this poem has a story behind it”, and I do think that every poem, written by anyone, has a tiny bit of autobiography in it. But if we’re calling them poems, let’s write poems.

They are not memoir. Not fiction. I do love writing short fiction, or short-shorts, micro-fiction, whatever you like to call it. Occasionally. It is a good way to get more of any story out. Maybe next week we’ll talk about that. But now…

Picture high school Tobi with her hair in ninety little braids, hitchhiking down Sherwin Grade in the middle of the night, getting to Bishop just as the bars closed. Did I write about it? This is exactly why you should never explain your poems before you read them (the story might be better than the poem!).

       *       *       *

Alternator, Generator, Voltage Regulator

Pretty much sums it up—
Sherwin Grade,
late at night,
new moon dancing dark
between the slow cadence of cloud,
summer leaning into fall,
smoke in the air, dust devils
quietly whirling grit, altitude
thin as gossamer,
not a light to be found—
on the roads, in the valley.

Our talk chopped,
strung on a low trellis,
whispers barely heard
above shadows,
jagged and still.
Smell of sweat, and cold,
lock the doors,
pray in silence.

We’d not yet learned
what brave meant,
only knew a dead engine
doesn’t click as it cools,
it just stops.
Even now,
as we let the hours
turn to pale pink,
the sleepy family,
dad at the wheel,
window open to keep awake,
warm tea in a plaid thermos
and a ride down the mountain—
places no veil of ease
across the scene.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Submissions Are Even Better Than Bacon

There are many ways to find submission opportunities. When a Facebook friend announces a success, I congratulate them, and immediately look up the journal to see if it might be a good fit for my work. has a tab for submission opportunities that is continuous. And free.

Poets and Writers Magazine is a treasure chest of information. In the back they list contests and submission opportunities. The contests usually have due dates, may have themes, and may carry a hefty price for entry. If a journal interests you, look it up anyway. Check the non-contest guidelines and see if they’re a fit for you. Check the journals and anthologies in the very back of the magazine as well.

Duotrope is another resource. For $5/week or $50/year, you will get a weekly report of new paying journals added, non-paying journals added, journals that are deemed to be “defunct” and ones whose windows have closed. They also have a long list of current themes open. For poets who write in multiple genres, they are now listing agents.

Besides the weekly report, you can log in to at any time and get lists of journals by all sorts of criteria, from those that pay to those that respond quickly, and on and on.

Read bios and acknowledgment pages. If there are poets you like, and you think their work is a good match for yours, see where they’ve been published. Read the guidelines for those journals; see if you’d be a good match too.

If a journal is not open, write the date it opens on your calendar. What else is a calendar for besides birthdays and dentist appointments?

There are blogs (like and many other ways to find places to submit. Find the ways that work for you, then do it, if that’s what you want to do.

Last week I listed a few journals and promised more this week. Remember, there are more than 23,000 literary journals listed in the United States alone. Last week you had a tiny peek. This week a few more.

Not to be “Debbie Downer” here, but rejections are a part of the writing life. Choose your submissions carefully; you will have more yes’s than no’s.  And please let me know about your successes. I will be so happy for you and will look forward to reading them.

Picaroon Poetry  (online, UK)

Closed until September 16, 2018

Poppy Road Review (online)

THAT Literary review  (print)
Department of English and Philosophy and the College of Arts and Sciences at Auburn University at Montgomery

Penumbra Literary Review  (print)
Cal State Stanislaus

Open: Journal of Arts & Letters (online)

Blue Heron Review (online)

Better Than Starbucks Poetry Magazine (print and online)

Black Fox Literary Magazine (print and online)

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sept 9 Poetry Reading & Issue 21 Release - Featuring John Sierpinski!

Our monthly magazine release party! 

September's Featured Reader is John Sierpinski, author of Sucker Hole, a hard-hitting collection of poems. He will be reading from this collection, and also reading newer material. We will also have 50 minutes of open reading! Come early and sign up! We ask each reader to read one short poem so everyone who wishes to participate has an opportunity. All participants in issue 21 will receive their contributor's copy at the reading. See you there! We welcome your poems for future issues! Poets and Writers ( are helping us to sponsor the featured reader with matching funds from our wonderful audience. Your generous financial support has given us the ability to match funds through October, 2018. Thank you!

Sucker Hole is available at all our local venues & we encourage you to shop locally - Rainbow Stew, Space Cowboy & Raven's Books. Click here to purchase a copy from Amazon.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Tobi Alfier - The Pros and Pros of Submitting

The Pros and Pros of Submitting Everywhere You Can 
(after you read the submission guidelines).

from my Facebook page
I love being published in print. I love to read the people I know and see how my poem looks. Make a grateful post on Facebook with a picture of the journal, and a thank you to the editor. Then I put it on a shelf, in alphabetical order, and refer back to it once in a while.

Some poets I know, ONLY submit to print journals. True - you always have your own archive copy, the journal doesn’t disappear off the net one day, many academic institutions have print journals and it is a pat on the back to be included in them. Yes, I know all that. I agree but I don’t completely agree.

I am a shy person. Really, really shy. And also insecure. My worst fear, after being paged in the airport or supermarket, is someone saying “I liked her last book, but this one’s crap!” as they hurl my book into the trash. That is all true. But really, I’m proud of my poetry, and so very thankful I can write.

I used to go to a lot of workshops with participants from all over the country. Being online gives me the chance to say hi to them for free. Not every print journal is available in the bookstore, and it’s a way to keep in touch. It also gives them a submission opportunity they might not have known about.

Shy Tobi also moderates a LinkedIn group (Poetry Editors and Poets). It has…wait for it…33,655 participants! If they can read me online, I have some credibility that maybe I wouldn’t have otherwise. It is a great group, but everyone who’s ever been on LinkedIn knows there are occasional “difficult” people who make it their life’s work to make everyone else miserable. When I delete these nasty folks, I am supported by the rest of the group. I do think part of it is because they know I am struggling the same way they are, and they can read my successes, just as I can read theirs.

Being published online also makes you visible in a way that being in a print journal may not. An editor, reading my poems online, gave me the opportunity to be in a gorgeous anthology called “Lush”, published by Rufous Press…in Sweden! Though this press is no longer in business, the book is still available. It was a wonderful opportunity and very flattering to be asked.

Recently I was contacted by artist and poet Chuka Susan Chesney. She was published in Bindweed, an online journal in Belfast. She was looking for poets for a project and thought she’d look through a few issues and find a UK poet she liked. She found me. We’re probably an hour apart, in traffic.

And now, I have a new, very nice Facebook friend, and an opportunity to write for two stunning projects – “100 Vibrant Artists of Los Angeles and Poets”, and “Lottery Blues”. And if it weren’t for an online publication clear across the ocean, none of this would have happened.

Note: I hesitate to list my favorite journals. Everyone writes differently and everyone has their own opinion. I know the journals who will NEVER publish me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t publish you.

I’m not special, people. Being published online in some of the journals today is a great opportunity for the submitting poet. And you may end up in the right place at the right time. It is definitely something to consider as you grow your submission experience.

With over 23,000 literary journals listed in the United States alone, this small list is only a teeny peek at the different types of venues available for your work.

Cholla Needles  (print)

Bindweed (online & print)

Peacock Journal (online)

Stay tuned for next week for more submission opportunities!

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Tobi Alfier - Etiquette for Editors

Acceptances and Rejections – Etiquette for Editors

      Most of my blogs are written for poets. This one is for the other side of the submitting poet situation: The Editor! Although this is about “submitting poets and the editors who are less than polite to them”, if you choose not to submit your work, you are still a poet! 
      Submitting poetry is time intensive, requires a great deal of organization, and it’s not for everyone. That’s okay. I am a submitting poet. I would rather do that than almost anything. You may have other priorities and that’s fine.
      I was having a discussion with an editor who has published my work once and rejected me four times. We have great conversations on social media even though I don’t seem to match the aesthetics of his journal. He was talking about editors who don’t send out rejection notifications.
      How many of you have submitted to journals who have this practice? How many of you remember to keep checking to see if you’ve been accepted or not? 
      How many of you find this practice of an editor not responding positively or negatively incredibly rude?
      As an editor, my feeling, and I know Rich feels the same way, is if you have taken your time to review our guidelines and do a submission to our journals:

      We owe you a complete review of your submission, and
      We owe you an acceptance, or declination.
     If a journal does not allow simultaneous submissions, they are holding your work hostage and making you responsible for knowing the status of it. That’s not right, in my opinion.
      And if a journal allows simultaneous submissions but makes you responsible for knowing the status of it, your work is being held hostage anyway. You can’t submit it anywhere else unless you’re prepared to withdraw it. Why should the status be your responsibility?
      There’s nothing you can do about journals that charge a $3 fee for submitting. We don’t do it. Don’t submit to them if you don’t agree with it. But journals that don’t send out rejections? I just don’t think there’s any excuse for that.
      Our journal has a very short window. We post the back cover, which lists the contributors, the day after the window closes.
     Before that cover is posted, every submitter has heard from us. If they’ve submitted toward the end of the window, they are reassured their work was carefully reviewed.
Aretha 1942-2018
      Editors are not gods. We would not have journals without submitting writers. It is rare to receive comments back on your submission. That’s what a workshop is for. But the very least we can do is check for typos, check for consistent tenses, ask questions if necessary, and promptly respond
to your submissions with a “yes” or a “no”.
      Submitting is a two-way street. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

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Tobi Alfier's most recent collection of poetry is Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn't Matter Where. She is also co-editor with Jeff Alfier of the San Pedro River Review. Don't miss Tobi's columns on the craft of poetry: insert your email address in the "Follow By Email" box to the right of this article and you'll be notified every time a new article appears.